“Long is the way, and hard, that out of hell leads up to light.” – Milton, Paradise Lost
It is with sadness that I open this journal for the last time. It has been my faithful companion now for many months, and I have carried it with me over land and sea and through ice and snow. It has weathered the journey surprisingly well, with only a slight cracking of the binding to show for its travels. When I am finished it will have served its purpose as I, too, will have served mine. I confess, Frankenstein, that it is strange to still be writing to you as though you will one day read these words, as was once my intention. That possibility is now forever ended, yet it has been the way of my entire existence, and I find that by now I can conceive of no other.
I remember your astonishment when you first realised that I, too, might wish to record my thoughts. The very idea that a monster should think anything worthy of expression! I knew the contempt in which you held me, in which you continued to hold me despite the ways in which my capabilities met, even exceeded, your own. I am, you understand, an educated Creature, despite my beginnings in foulness and death. Three years ago I was born from nothing, with only the breath in my lungs and the blood in my veins to sustain me. I learned to walk and run and climb. I learned to speak and read and love and hate. So why should I not also write as a man writes?
True, it is difficult. This body you constructed has great strength but lacks something in the finer movements, and my hand stutters across the page the way speech tumbles, misshapen, out of my mouth, in headlong rushes and stammering halts. The trail of blackened lead I leave is jagged and ugly, like my thoughts, like myself, and yet surely it has no less right to exist.
What I have set down within these pages is my story, written by my own hand. It is my life, all that I remember of it, from the simple joys of sun and rain and birds to the darkness of hatred and loneliness and death. Here is the old man who gave me words and speech, and whom I destroyed for his kindness. Here is little William, murdered for the sake of your attention, and here, the beautiful Elizabeth, who gave me her pity, and from whom I took so much more. Above all, here you are, Frankenstein, for what has my life been but a poor, wandering shadow of your own? I remember leafing, uncomprehending, through your journal, where your words and diagrams so passionately outlined the how of my creation. Yet only from examining my own account can I ever hope to understand the why. Can your curiosity, your vanity, truly be the only reason I exist? How cruel life is.
Even this journal, too, was once yours. I stole it from you, as I did so many other things. When you promised to create me a bride – a breach of promise for which even now I do not wholly forgive you – I spirited from your workroom these things I now hold in my hands. One of the blank journals you always held in reserve, and two sticks of black lead encased in wood. My knife has served to keep them sharp enough to write. Once my story was to have been a gift for you, a remembrance of your Creation in exchange for my bride, but that was before I experienced the humiliation of betrayal. Now I write for myself, and perhaps for those yet unborn, but as always you, my creator, have never been far from my thoughts.
The story, however, is not yet finished. While I have already recorded much of my life as described, there has been little time in which to write since we began our journey north. I have scratched out a sentence or two whenever I could, but of these final few months I have not yet made a full account.
Indeed, in the last weeks I have written nothing at all. As you grew weaker, you required more and more care, and it took all my strength and diligence just to keep you alive in this endless world of ice and sunlight. But now – now I have all the time in the world to finish my story, while you rest quietly here beside me, and to tell it to you all over again as I write. Even if you are no longer able to hear it.
I watched you, all of you, at Elizabeth’s funeral. I stood behind a tree on that small rise overlooking the cemetery, and I bowed my head, but shed no tears for her. The only tears I had remaining I kept for myself alone. Poor Elizabeth, lying in a box, in the ground, to rot, to turn into food for the worms. Why did you not bring her back, Frankenstein? Were you frightened she might no longer love you? Or did you fear she might become like me, might even wake from death and turn to me unerringly as one of her own? Then you would have known pain even worse than you knew then.
For nights afterward, you went hunting. You warned me that you would forever be behind me, but had you not considered that it is I who might instead follow you? I knew those woods, those mountains, I have run and hidden and wept in them, and knew them far better than you ever could, than you ever will. I trailed you for my own amusement, you in your great warm cloak, knife in your belt, pistol in your hand, while I trod empty-handed and ragged in the shadows. In time I grew tired of this pointless game, and on the fifth night I leapt down from the tree in which I watched, directly in front of you.
You immediately pointed the pistol at me, as though it would frighten me, as though I could not simply have waited another three seconds until you had gone past unheeding and simply strangled you from behind. Once again I waited patiently for you to shoot me. Once again, you did not.
“That night you could have killed me, Frankenstein, and yet you stayed your hand. Now here I am again, and yet still I live.”
I took another step toward you and you slowly lowered the pistol to your side. You looked lost and helpless, like the rabbit in a snare who knows it will never run free again. Then a flash of fire came back into your eyes, and it pleased me to see it.
“I would rather do away with myself,” you said. “That is what you want, isn’t it? To witness my destruction.” Your voice was hoarse, as if you had been screaming for days without respite. Then you raised the pistol slowly to your own head, and I saw you swallowing your fear. “That is what will finally put an end to all of this.”
I lunged forward and wrested the pistol from you, although in truth the resistance you put up was small indeed. In that way it was clear that you feared your own death every inch as much as mine. When I had it in my grasp, you raised your hands in surrender, but now you were smiling, laughing as though reaching the end of some marvellous joke.
“I see you want the satisfaction of killing me yourself. Very well then, monster. End it.”
I drew my hand back and flung the pistol far away, into the darkness. My anger already burned hot within me.
“Your death ends nothing for me, Frankenstein. Should you deliberately seek your end with such cowardice, I swear I will track down every member of your household until all are dead. Your father, your servants, any cousins yet remaining. Then I will find those already gone and desecrate their graves, scattering their bones across the countryside. Then I may even turn my attentions elsewhere. They will curse your name in Geneva for generations to come, as the bringer of monsters.”
Your face turned white with horror as my words struck home. “Then what is it that you want?”
“I want you to understand what you did! What you have done!”
Possessed of a fury, I grappled with you briefly, although your weakness was never a match for my strength. I tore your great cloak from your shoulders and threw it upon the ground. All your garments followed, despite your struggling and cursing, until you were lying on the cold ground, naked. As naked as I was when you made me. I took the journal from beneath my shirt, my journal, the one in which I had written my life up to the night of Elizabeth’s death. I threw it at you, followed by the cloak. It settled around you like a shroud.
“There,” I said. “Now go off and make your way in the world, as I did. If you try to return home, I will know.”
You said nothing, but lay there and groaned from the bruises I had inflicted in the struggle.
“Yet think what advantages you still possess over me, Frankenstein. The power and clarity of speech, of beauty in men’s eyes, of having a name and a place and a history. Even like this, I know you will not suffer long.”
You remained silent, and it infuriated me. Your debasement had not appeased me in the way that I had hoped. I still hurt, inside, and yet I also felt both anger and despair. How do humans cope with such a confusion of feeling? How is it possible to understand others when it is difficult enough to understand oneself?
I sprawled myself on the ground next to you, looking into your face from where it emerged above the edge of the woollen cloak. Your cheek was swollen from where I had struck it to keep you still, and the gash on your lip still shone red with blood. I reached out a hand to touch it, and you flinched back, but still my thumb came back smeared with scarlet. You, too, are but meat. Flesh and blood and bone under the skin, like myself. Then why am I so different from you? From all of you?
“I wanted you to love me,” I said, and your brow furrowed as though faced with a complex algorithm you had never before encountered. “Why could you not love me, as your Creation?”
You shook your head, frowning. Your lips parted slowly, painfully to speak. “You are a monster.”
Madness, then – all was madness. I wanted to love you, to hurt you, to howl out my pain and my grief and pour out my anger upon you. I uncovered you, flinging the cloak to one side, relishing the fear in your eyes as I pinned you down with my body. It was useless to struggle, you knew that, and yet you did it anyway, no better than any mindless animal. I brought my mouth to yours, nothing like sweet Elizabeth’s, hard and chapped and desperate. It did nothing but feed my rage and desire. I licked the blood away from my lips and did it once again.
“For God’s sake,” you gasped, twisting your head, imploring, and I laughed at you.
“The scientist yet calls upon his God. Where is God now, scientist?”
I felt it again, the unstoppable rush of fire in my blood, and I realised then how much I yet desired you, my creator, my lust for Elizabeth now seeming a pale, ghostly thing beside it. In all things I have become a man, and I understood what it meant, this new strength of purpose, the stirring of heat and flesh that brings such pleasure with it. I regretted that you did not, or could not, find such reciprocal desire for me, and was momentarily saddened, but in my inflamed state I had no use for such distractions. As I rutted against you it seemed somehow to encompass the multitude of all that I felt, and I panted and groaned in the relief of its expression.
My body, though, demanded more for its physical release, and so I reached for your legs, pushing them up toward your body, spreading your knees apart. Then I began to push into you, a clumsier task than it had been with Elizabeth, but glorious, even as you fought me every step of the way.
“No, god, please,” you said, your movements growing steadily weaker against mine, and then, simply, “no.” Your voice was barely above a whisper, soft in my ears like the soughing of tree branches in the wind, meaningless.
You were too tight at first, as though closed to me. It was difficult, almost painful, but I persevered until I was fully inside you, and then the pleasure returned, multiplied tenfold. By then you were weeping freely, perhaps from pain, perhaps from humiliation, and I trembled at the thought that perhaps you finally understood such things. I swept the tears gently from your face as I thrust in faster and harder, the experience exquisite beyond words. I realised then that I truly loved you, my master, for is that not love? To possess and desire and delight so entirely in another being? My love for you overwhelmed me, and I proclaimed it to the night sky, to the birds and trees, and it seemed the very forest around us stilled to listen.
When I was finished, I threw your cloak over you once more. “Go home,” I said, all the blessing I could find in my heart to give you.
“Wait,” you said, and I stopped and squatted on my haunches beside you, curious. “Is it – over now?” you said, with such quiet hope. I was truly sorry to have to disappoint you once more.
“It will never be over, Frankenstein. Not while I draw breath.”
“Then you must leave,” you said. Your voice shook, but your tone was firm of purpose. “Away from here. Away from everywhere. You must go northward, into the ice and snow and frozen wastes, where humanity will be safe from your depredations.”
“Why should I ever wish to do such a thing, when here I have my heart’s desire? I live now only for you, and for your everlasting torment. If I am forever denied the delights of Eden, I may at least enjoy ruling over your Hell.”
You closed your eyes, as though in pain. “Because if you leave now, I will follow. For as long as you go northward, I will go, too. You said, once, that if you but had a – companion, you would be willing to travel, far from the eyes of man. You promised it.”
This was something I had never anticipated. I considered the matter carefully, turning it over for signs of guile or treachery. “You would truly do this? For the sake of humanity.” I spat out the last word. It tasted foul on my tongue.
“Until death should claim you, or me. Maybe when the world is turned to ice, I will have the strength to do away with you cleanly at last.”
“Very well, Frankenstein.” I held out my hand, and you looked at it as though it were something strange and abhorrent to you. “You shake it. To seal the bargain,” I reminded you, and you reached out unwillingly from beneath your cloak and did so. There were still traces of moisture on your bruised cheek. I carefully took my journal back from its resting place in the grass, tucking it inside my shirt once more.
“What is that?” you said, as though dazed. “How did you get my journal?”
“Not yours,” I said. “I found it blank, and you needed it not, and so it is mine now. It contains my story within, all that I remember of it. It was once written for you, and to you. I wished for you to read the detail of it, and to learn of and understand my sufferings. But now there is no need. Instead, I will tell it to you all myself, from the beginning, as we travel. North.”
We travelled for so many miles, across countries and places I had never seen nor thought to ever see. At first I thought of it akin to a children’s game, just as young William would have played, a hide-and-seek across continents, with death perhaps waiting patiently at the end. I knew not exactly where I headed, only following your instructions to press onward, ever north.
I led and you followed, on that journey with no purpose or meaning. In truth it was but a kind of moving prison, wherein we both played gaoler and captive by turns. You needed to be sure I would not slip away and return to Geneva to wreak destruction once more. I needed to ensure you would not abandon me. In this way we proceeded with a wary eye toward each other. When I slipped aboard a freighter bound for the Black Sea, on which you had secured passage for yourself, I immediately went in search of a glimpse of you once we had cast off.
For the first weeks there was only fear in your eyes whenever we chanced to meet in darkness, as though you expected me to attack you again. I rarely saw you without a knife within easy reach on your person, even in sleep. As though that could stop me, when my strength and stamina overtopped yours by such a margin. Yet I did not try to touch you again, not in that way. It was enough to know you were there with me. Whenever there was a chance to see you without being seen, in the quiet of inn bedrooms and ship’s cabins, I would sit and speak with you, nothing more. It would be a lie to say I ceased to desire you. But more than wanting the simplicity of your body, I needed the complexity of your mind. I wanted it to absorb the fullness of my story, to finally hear and acknowledge my voice.
Over many broken nights, I forced you to listen to me, of the days and weeks and years I spent outcast, alone. One night, I saw you weep, and on another, you allowed me to kiss you, and you barely flinched away. I thought then that I almost knew happiness.
I only ever wanted someone to love, who would love me in return, or at least who would accept my existence without fear. I once had dreams of such surpassing love and beauty, but after the old man died they never came again. Instead the ones I killed often visit me in sleep and look sadly down upon me, but do not speak. Maybe they are my punishment.
Yet now I have you with me, Frankenstein, and if they were my punishment, perhaps I was yours.
When the landscape finally turned to ice, the journey became much more difficult for you. I saw that from the beginning. You needed so much merely to sustain life. Six dogs, a sled, boots and gloves and furs, and a pile of supplies and provisions twice as big as a man. In addition to food, you had a tent, a blubber stove and lamps, rope, several knives and a pistol. I had but myself, and a sack of purloined possessions – scattered utensils, my writing supplies and journal, a sturdy knife. For use upon seals, or in self-defence, or perhaps even on myself, I cared not.
Here on the frozen tundra, we walked closer than ever. At first I kept up the pretence, and led you from the distance of fifty to a hundred feet, your dogs effortlessly maintaining pace behind me. Yet I stopped whenever you did. I drank the water you melted on the stove, and I killed whatever I could find to fuel it, and the dogs, and ourselves. You slept in the tent, while I huddled outside on the sled with the provisions, or with the dogs, whose suspicious natures were quickly appeased by the meat I fed them as often as I could. Their dauntless, voiceless company proved an unexpected source of comfort.
Later, the dogs grew slow and reluctant, and we walked much more closely together, my lead now barely an arm’s length. The days came one after another, the long stretches of light making each one seem endless. Provisions became scarce, the climate ever harsher. The emaciated dogs became both meat and fuel as you made use of the pistol at last. I felt a tiny thrill of fear after each shot, as though perhaps my time were now to come at last, but you only stared at me over the steaming corpses and turned away again.
When the dogs had all departed, two by two, you had no recourse but to haul the sled yourself, and our progress grew ever more uncertain. Often you fainted in your tracks, and had to be roused to walk on once more. I suffered, too – from cold, from hunger and thirst, from exhaustion. However, it was nothing compared to realising the magnitude of your revenge upon me. You had found the one thing greater than my hatred of humanity and used it against me, had bound me inextricably to you, so that your suffering now in effect became mine. In this way I realised how dangerous love was, a treachery that ran so much deeper than hate.
As you grew weaker still, you became too tired to speak, or listen, and the darkness of spirit began to crowd in upon me once more, the bitterness that tasted like bile. I had done nothing to deserve this desolate fate, and yet here I was, trudging through this frozen wasteland, goading you ever onward. Finally, I understood the despair that had driven you to make this devil’s bargain. I took to doing all I could for you – pitching the tent, preparing the food, pulling the sled, but it was clear that you could not long continue.
One day you awoke, and said you could go no farther. After the loss of the dogs I had taken to sleeping in the tent, maximising warmth for both our sakes, and I was already awake beside you. I wrapped myself around you, trying to contain your shivering, but you remained icy pale, your skin almost as cold as the outside air. I gave you food, but you would not eat, water, but you would not drink. I pulled you to your feet by force, shouted at you, pummelled you, abused you for your weakness, but you would not so much as walk a single step outside. Eventually I gave up, and let you sink back under the furs, and you slept.
When you woke again, something in you had changed. You were no longer sunk into silence, but reached for my arm and began to babble eagerly about your childhood, as though describing it to your dearest friend. How happy you were then, how free of care! You described the tenderness of your mother, the gentle patience of your father, until I could almost see and feel them for myself. The delights of the Italian countryside, with all that you could wish for in toys and games and books. The servants, who tended to you with affectionate indulgence. The sweet-natured Elizabeth, an orphan discovered amongst peasants, who was to become both your loving playmate and your bride. Such pictures you painted were strange and beautiful to me, descriptions of a foreign land whose borders I had never crossed. I knew that in telling me such things your mind, too, had weakened, and you were not yourself, and yet I did not want you to stop.
As the hours wore on, your words petered out, and you began to make less and less sense. You became petulant, then, like a child, complaining first of heat, then of cold, then of heat again. I forced sustenance upon you, but you pushed it away with such violence that the meat scattered in pieces across the tent’s floor, and the water spilled over both of us, wasted, and making us colder into the bargain. I did not try again. You slept and woke at irregular intervals, and at times your sleep so resembled death that I needed to lean in close to learn if you yet breathed. Sometimes you would wake, and call me by another’s name, staring at me in confusion, but without discernible fear. At other times you would rouse with a sudden start, and appear wholly yourself once more.
“Promise me,” you demanded during one of your lucid moments. “After I am dead, you must never return to Geneva. You must only go forward – you must never go back. Promise me.”
“You will not die, master. You cannot. I will not allow it.”
You laughed at me then, as cruel as ever. Your hand clutched at my arm again, harder this time, pitiless. “Promise me.” Then your eyes narrowed with animal cunning, and you touched your hand once to my mouth before pulling me down and pressing your lips to mine, the only time you had ever done so. The only time you would ever do so.
“I promise,” I said. Yet of what worth were my promises to you, after all I had done? However, despite myself, this was one I would faithfully keep.
“It is fitting,” you said softly, and then disappeared for a time, your eyes dull and glazed. Then you roused yourself one last time and brought your hand to my face, tracing the stitches down one side, frowning. “I am truly sorry,” you said, and this time there was unexpected tenderness in your eyes and voice. “My poor creature.”
Two days later I returned from a brief trip outside the tent to find you pale and still, as you always were, but this time a base-born instinct told me that some vital change had occurred. I set down the pieces of freshly-hacked meat, wiping my bloodied hands clean on the fur as I bent over you. I rested my cheek against your nose and mouth for many minutes, and felt for the pulse of life in your throat, even as I already knew what I would find. I did not know, then, what to do. I wanted to howl or scream or weep. I did none of those things. Instead I sat there beside you for a time, my hand still pressed against the side of your throat, and stared out at the view of the barren wastes in silence. All seemed hushed that day, as though the wind itself had departed for fairer climes, and even the creaking of the ice was subdued.
Finally I roused myself and melted snow on the tiny stove, the thick black smoke adding to the heaviness of the room. I added more snow to cool it, then tore a square from my ragged shirt to use as a cloth. The first swipes upon your face left paler trails of skin through the soot and dirt, and I continued until all looked clean and uniform again. I poured the remainder of the water through your matted hair, struggling with my fingers to return it to some semblance of order. Then I drew back the sleeping furs, one by one.
I continued on with the rest of your body, stopping to melt more snow or tear new pieces of cloth as required. I stripped you of your filthy layers of clothing and slowly brought you back to your purest, most original form. How beautiful you were, master. How beautiful you are, still. Even worn bone-thin with hunger and weariness, your body has a wholeness, a perfection about it, that I have never known. At times on this journey I have almost forgotten my own ugliness, with few reflections to accuse me or people to draw back in horror. Yet when I look down at my limbs, or belly, the reminders are always there should I require them. There are scars and markings on your own form, certainly, but they only serve to draw attention to the vast expanses of unblemished, unsutured flesh.
When I was finished I laid you out on the cleanest of the furs, and you seemed almost to glow in the darkness of the tent, like an angel fallen to earth. I stretched myself out beside you, stained with soot and sweat from my exertions, more bestial than ever. I hesitated to even touch you, to mar your perfection with my embrace, but my longing could not be contained. In death I could look upon you freely, examine you as never before. I kissed your face many times, and stroked your damp, icy hair. I ran my hands over you slowly, this time for pleasure and not for toil. Your skin still retained the faint traces of warmth from your body and from the water I had used to bathe you, and the detail, the fineness of it was exquisite. I lifted your arms in turn, marvelling at their clean soundness, and ran my fingers down the sparse hair on your chest, over the jutting ribs, and down over the concavity of your belly. I rested my hands on the bony protuberances of your hipbones and touched you in all the places below, learning the shape and form of you as I would a lover.
By this time I realised that even now, I yet desired you. Even more, that I could possess you without causing you any further grief or shame. I took my time about it, speaking to you words of love as though you could yet hear me, kissing your opened mouth. I rested my cheek against your chest, but found no comfort there. Using traces of spent blubber oil from the stove, I finally eased my passage into you, and then stopped there for many moments, breathing hard, overwhelmed. This time it was I who wept, my tears dripping down onto your cheeks, your nose, pooling in the corners of your eyes, from whence they trickled forth as though you shared my grief. For the first time I wept not for only for myself, but for all who had found an early death because of me. You are, and will be, the very last of them.
My tears spent, desire returned to me at last, and I gave in to it freely, using the perfection of your body to fuel its flame ever higher. I screamed my pain and rage and passion into the empty air, and their echoes came drifting back to me across the ice, indifferent.
It is almost finished. I would put the stamp of history on my words, but this far north I can tell neither date nor time in this eternal light. Here the sun circles the sky and barely sets, and the moon follows it around for days on end before disappearing to recover itself for a similar span of time. Even the moon has company here, but I am more solitary than ever before.
If I had only your knowledge, your powers, would I dare to bring you back? Would I then despise you as something less than human, as you despised me? Or upon your reawakening would you finally love me, yearn for me, desire me in return? I am aware I have neither skill nor means to make the attempt, rendering these thoughts useless, and yet they plague me still.
Yet we can only go forward – we can never go back. Is that not what you have always said, master? In the absence of your wisdom, it seems the only course left to me now. Just as you kept your promise to follow me into these frozen wastes, I in turn will follow you into lands unknown. Having seen death’s work upon you, I no longer fear it. Whatever it may turn out to be, it can surely be no worse than life. You look so peaceful lying there, untroubled by torments of soul or flesh.
I have weighed your pistol in my hand, but I will not use it. I have studied each of the knives in turn and tested the sharpness of their blades, but set them all back down again. I do not require any of these means to die. I will curl myself tightly around you, and simply choose, as you did, never to rise again.
I will tuck this journal carefully inside my jacket before lying down with you for the last time. You did your best to destroy all traces of your work, myself included, but my own work I will make all efforts to preserve. Maybe one distant day it will come to light once more. Perhaps a reckless explorer, stumbling across the remains of the tent, will find my frozen, lifeless body, still wrapped around your own. At first he will doubtless regard the sight with horror, but I hope that afterward he will read my words, and hear my thoughts, and not judge as harshly as he might.
I only hope that in time someone will finally understand me, and all that I have done. All that you, master, have done.
We are together at the end, indivisible in death as in life. It is, I agree, only fitting.